Monthly Archives: June 2013

Sound off! The Quest to Find G.I. Joe

The following is a guest blog post from Nico Zavaleta, a summer intern here at  Nico will be a junior at Penn State University this fall, majoring in Economics.

Nico_ZLike a kid in grade school skipping class, American troops have been marked as being present in multiple locations and nonexistent in places where they actually are stationed.

My assignment when I began this internship was to update a data set with the whereabouts of American troops since 1950. Specifically, my task was to try to find a straightforward answer as to how many troops were physically in Afghanistan and Iraq, not the aggregate estimate that the Pentagon publishes about the levels of troops involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Finding the actual historic levels of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and the neighboring countries surrounding them proves very difficult and while it may not require congressional clearance or a nondisclosure agreement, it leads to many empty paths and misdirection from different agencies within and outside of the Pentagon. Long story made short, the quest ended with several pending Freedom of Information Act requests and knocking on a few doors.

I have learned that it is  impossible to make a perfect accounting of the U.S. global troop presence, even though the Pentagon’s in-house statisticians, the Defense Manpower Data Center, have been keeping records since 1950. DMDC reports are published quarterly and are very helpful in finding out how many troops are deployed to countries in most of the world, but they are not collected in one spreadsheet. Rather, each new quarter’s data is published as a PDF or Excel sheet (depending on the year or probably someone’s mood). The problem is that the numbers that are published are misleading, with under-counting, double-counting, and different measures of counting troops varying from one year to the next.

Above is a chart that shows deployment levels drastically changed only at the end of 2010, despite the “surge” in troops in the years before. We are now on track to have less than 100,000 troops in the Middle East soon … give or take tens of thousands of troops that aren’t “officially” deployed to a country.

The Chaos of War

During times of war or even times of increased global tensions, the U.S. has shifted its troop presence, or posture, to adjust for the change in risk throughout the world.  As some people know, the U.S. military has bases in Germany, Italy, Japan, and South Korea. Less well known is that during the past ten years the U.S. stationed thousands of troops in Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Djibouti, Turkey, the Philippines, and Kyrgyzstan as well as over 100,000 troops elsewhere in the world that are “Undistributed.”  This notion of “Undistributed” caught my attention, and I noticed that its numbers grew even during recent drawdowns.

So as we move a little further towards trying to count for troops ashore, afloat, in the air, and the “Shh, we’re not there!”, leaving the unallocated mess of troops in the Middle East aside, we find that thousands of troops deployed to European and East Asian bases were sent to fight in OIF and OEF, but were still considered deployed to their original countries. That means the DMDC data double-counts those troops as being in two places at once. The other interesting component of the data is that during war, there are always troops moving to and from theater, but those are accounted for in the categories of “Transients.” Those troops are also included in the “miscellaneous” category as well and so are other troops that have not been deployed to a specific country.

“Undistributed” Troops: It’s all in the wording

Nico_Z 2

From what I have gathered, this category has always existed but had never reached the levels of 160,000 troops since DMDC began keeping records. As stated in the (newly formatted with less information than ever before) 2012 report by DMDC, “undistributed” includes troops in “Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Republic of Korea, and any unknown/classified locations.”  Which to many people would be the precise locations that people would want to know about if they were researching where American troops have been. Here are a few potential theories:

  • Theory 1. OIF and OEF involved immense amounts of soldiers and as such, the shifts in troops rose at a high rate. But why then the unprecedented proportion of troops being relegated to being “undistributed”?
  • Theory 2. The accounting measures for troops have changed since the data began to be collected in the 1950s or we now have better ways to keep track of troops.  It seems to be consistent in the past though…
  • Theory 3. Some of the “Undistributed” troops were involved in OIF and OEF or even in South Korea, but not deployed to a certain country. If troops were in a country, why do we not have that recorded and easily available to the public?
  • Theory 4. Political negotiations may not necessarily be private, but some countries may stipulate that American troops can be in their country provided the information is not specifically announced.
  • Theory 5. Classified missions and not “deploying” troops has risen in order to lower the total number of reported troops deployed to a country, instead of how many boots on the ground there were. It’s a simple nuance in changing “deployed” to “undistributed” or something similar in order to make the reports of changes in troops being different than they are. Think Real vs. Nominal GDP/Interest Rates.

My conclusion is that while all five theories, not to mention “intern fatigue/error” may have some part to play in this rise in troop levels, the confusion that arises from the oddly disproportionate “Undistributed” category needs to be investigated further, at the very least to understand why nearly 160,000 troops in 2010 are labeled as “Undistributed ashore” when that was over a third of all U.S. troops outside the U.S. as reported by the Pentagon.  It seems that I’ve been playing some weird combination of “Where’s Waldo?” and “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego” with the Pentagon for the past two months.  Too bad the Pentagon has to play by bureaucratic and diplomatic rules that didn’t come in my box.

Or maybe it was “Go Fish”?

Perspective of a Française about a fiscal union in Europe (guest post)

The following is a guest blog post from Alicia Chavy, a summer intern here at  Alicia will be a senior at Georgetown this fall, majoring in International Politics.

Born and raised in France, I had a strong opinion of France’s domestic and foreign policy as a member of the European Union. I thought I had it all figured it out, even when I moved to the United States and started my education here. However, when I came to Georgetown to study international politics, the school challenged me to think original thoughts rather than thoughts from my origins.

 I used to believe that France would emerge as the savior of the European Union with a solution that would be appropriate to all the different members and fix the current system of the Eurozone. The new French president, Francois Hollande, proposed a fiscal union to improve on the current monetary union. He believes “it is [his] responsibility as the leader of a founder member of the European Union… to pull Europe out of this torpor that has gripped it, and to reduce people’s disenchantment with it”. Hollande offered “an economic government for the Eurozone with its own budget, the right to borrow, a harmonized tax system and a full time president.” Is this really a good idea?

Hollande has yet to dealt with the current recession in France itself, nor has he reduced disenchantment of the French people. That fact raises doubts about any plans he has for Europe. Indeed, we should question whether the creation of a new Eurozone fiscal union will solve France’s domestic problems, let alone any other country’s. It may lead France and the European Union down a dangerous road.

Yes, the current EU is broken. It lacks regulations against members that amass too much debt, which led to the crisis in Greece and Italy. Yes, the problems that Europe faces are spreading throughout the region, including France. But they are at root local problems that nations need to tackle with local solutions. Now that France is going through a recession, Hollande wants others to pay for the debts we have accumulated over the years with a plan that disregards the different labor and welfare system of all the members.

In my opinion, governments need flexibility to tackle domestic problems, not a stronger center. A full-scale fiscal union would restrain them and worsen the situation. Hollande’s plan diminishes Europe’s competitiveness in the global market because it will force members like Ireland to engage in high taxes, and have citizens of France pay for the debt of other nations in trouble (hint: no French citizen will like that).

Going back to the original principle of the European Union, Charles de Gaulle described it as a regional organism where the different states, without losing their body, soul and figure, delegate a little bit of their sovereignty for strategic, economic and cultural purposes.  “Les divers Etats, sans perdre leur corps, leur âme, leur figure, délèguent une part de leur souveraineté en matière stratégique, économique, culturelle” (Charles de Gaulle).

On the contrary now, Hollande wants to change the EU to a United States of Europe, or so he says, but even that analogy now strikes me as misleading. Is there an American state like Greece with unpaid debts and bad books? Hollande’s European members would surrender their arms, figure and sovereignty and would have to deal with more than the current crisis.

LOL What a Joke the Constitution Is!

The idea of state sovereignty is riddled with exceptions and is largely a joke these days. The federal government calls the shots, and the states obey, in the area of elections as much as in any other.

SLATE’s Eric Posner offers a stunning couple of sentences there in his assessment of the SCOTUS decision about the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution. I honestly cannot imagine an American citizen writing them, let alone a law professor, but forgive my perspective as a military veteran. He’s saying: It’s not that those original words on ye olde Constitutional parchment are wrong so much as they’re old. Bill of Rights?  Booo-ring!  And way past their shelf life! Military recruits taking an oath to protect and defend words on paper: What a knee-slapper!

Sad thing is, Posner may be right about sad state of federalism. It’s not his fault that the idea is disrespected, but his essay is a wake-up call. But I think he should appreciate the attempt by Chief Justice John Roberts to reaffirm federalism as a core principle.

Posner’s use of “obey” was the most chilling, to me. Makes me think of a modified version Niemoeller’s “First they came …” poem.

First, they told the states to obey, but I wasn’t a state. Then, they told the cities and towns to obey, but I wasn’t even a village. Then they told the churches and corporations and associations and schools and unions to obey, but I was still a free man. Then they told me to

The Edward Luce Review (Financial Times)

Edward Luce wrote a compelling review of BALANCE in the Financial Times.  He offers a full spectrum of adjectives, describing the book in turns as readable, data-rich, instructive, original, bizarre, eccentric, and entertaining.

Which brings me to the book’s two chief problems. The first is the history, which, while engagingly rendered, is too obviously retrofitted to the present. The authors’ choices tell a story in themselves. Rome, dynastic China, imperial Spain, the British and the Ottomans make sense. Each was the great power of its day. But the inclusion of Japan, the European Union and California is eccentric. The EU and California have no greater claim to having been great powers than Sacramento or Strasbourg have to being imperial cities. By including two relatively high tax and politically dysfunctional entities, Hubbard and Kane show their hand.

In response, I’d counter that selecting the case studies was one of the biggest challenges we faced, and one we took seriously. To the charge of selecting cases that would help sell books, I plead guilty, but I don’t think that makes us eccentrics, nor should you buy the argument that these contemporary cases are irrelevant. Indeed, one could make a stronger argument that Great Powers pre-1900 are eccentric given the new technological world in which we live. Nuclear weapons are a sea change in the strategic landscape, as is industrial organization, computerization, modern democracy, and mass literacy. But I digress. Luce’s three objections can all be met by recognizing that each of the challenged chapters has a deeper message.

I find it hard to accept an argument against the inclusion of the Japan chapter because it may be the single most important contribution BALANCE makes: the idea of its Development Fuseki supermodel which is the standard growth strategy across Asia and arguably the rest of the world. Glenn and I also point out the limits of that supermodel, which is vital to understanding modern China (Luce’s main objected omission) and why America’s power is not threatened externally. America’s internal threat, however, can only be appreciated by examining failing modern welfare states in Europe and, importantly, California. Here we find the “new Praetorians” that are locking governments into fiscal imbalance with unfunded pensions on a vast scale. And when we explore the fiscal crisis in America, it has to include more than just federal budgets. No state embodies that better than California (which we illustrate has a 2010 GDP equal to Italy, and also has more “economic power” than the UK or Germany). Finally, the Europe chapter is, in our defense, about more than the EU. It includes a section about the failure of statism, Nazi and Soviet, which many will understand as rival Powers in the 20th century that must be addressed, as well as the distinction among three supermodels in Europe today. I think that latter distinction is one Luce shares wholeheartedly, as do most Brits.

The second problem is the book’s diagnosis of what is ailing the US. Hubbard and Kane are right to see gridlock as a big problem. But their view of what is causing it is bizarre. …Forget the rise of China, the stagnation of US middle class incomes, or the drop down the ranks of international education tables. The biggest threat to US power comes from the mild (and ineffectual) attempts to curb how much money the rich can spend to influence elections. It is hard to know how to react to such reasoning, except to say that it is a pity.

No, I’m afraid I can only disagree squarely on this matter. Gridlock is a symptom, not the core problem, which I hope we made plain enough in the text. There is a weakness in any democracy to tend away from responsiveness to the people and toward special interests, either rich external groups or incumbent internal groups. We finger both, attacking the power of speech limits (aka campaign finance “reforms”) to protect incumbent legislators and the enhance the ideological narrowness of monopolistic parties. But we also critique the following: budget process rules, gerrymandering, term limits, and the demise of federalism (state diversity). This is all made relevant by the preceeding two hundred pages of historical rhymes: incumbency and rent-seeking that undercut the economic dynamism of every major Great Power before.

In fairness, Luce strikes many other points into our narrative that should give you, as they gave me, pause. More attention to Germany is deserved, and more as well to the attitudes of the voters and protesters in southern Europe. It may well be wishful thinking to imagine that the young realize the folly of welfare states erected by previous generations. I am guilty of hope, but also vigilance as the reason to hope. In other words, I remain confident that better days are ahead for America and Europe — though perhaps not immediately ahead.

Academy grads: Go Spurs!

The Spurs have been my favorite team in any professional sport since my fellow Academy graduate, David Robinson (USNA ’87) joined the team, which I learned was (and still is) coached by the great Gregg Popovich (USAFA ’70). The love was sealed during my short time at Goodfellow AFB in Texas, and the frequent trips made with my classmates to beautiful San Antonio.

The Spurs have won four NBA championships in recent years, and are poised to win #5 tonight.  I read somewhere that the team has never lost an NBA Finals, which may set some kind of record if they win tonight against the supremely talented Miami Heat. Sports fans, this is one for the ages.

The cast of characters who have played for the Spurs are all endearing, from Duncan, Ginobli, and Parker to “Old School” Big Shot Rob and Steve Kerr. But the greatest character is Popovich. The man radiates leadership, and is a walking teachable moment.

Most of us have come to know him as “Pop” during his 17 seasons as San Antonio’s head coach, but to friends from his academy days he is “Popo.” Pop seemingly goes out of his way to keep media and fans at least at arm’s length. Quietly, Popo tries just as hard to stay in touch with friends who knew him back when. “I think Popo always remembered where he came from,” Purcell said. “He’s gotten where he is through hard work and diligence. You just love to see guys like that do well. We’re all big Popo fans and Spurs fans.”

That’s from a very nice article by Brad Townend at

Photo HT: Yahoo’s Dan Devine, and his solid article is worth a read also.

How does this relate to Balance? Note our long discussion of the 3-point shot. Note that Spurs’ guard Danny Green has set a record for the most 3-pointers in an NBA final, and there are 1-2 more games to be played.

Lastly, some number crunching done by yours truly.  The Spurs have beat the Heat in total points. Spurs 496 – Heat 481. Trendline is up & higher for Spurs, as well. Three of the five games have been decided in 4th quarter. See the chart at my twitter feed:

Political targeting by the IRS is bigger, more complex than you think

A great book will be written about this. The IRS targeting of unorthodox Tea Party groups, pro-family groups, and others while Obama was president is going to only become a bigger scandal, and every day a new nugget of information shocks me.  For starters, the dribbling of new, damaging information implies that the White House is trying to contain the scandal instead of opening up with full transparency. Why, after so many weeks, has the public not been told who initiated the targeting? That is a simple thing to discover. A president should be able to get an answer to that question and to share it with the public within 24 hours.

Here are some of nuggets that are troubling:

1. Lois Lerner, who originally organized the failed spin event that alerted the public to the scandal, who is now on some kind of paid leave, who denied personal involvement and blamed “rogue” underlings for the targeting, worked for years at the Federal Election Commission before going to the IRS.  The FEC is the primary enforcer of political speech limits, euphemistically known as “campaign finance reform” laws.  For decades such limits were constitutional, but SCOTUS pared them back.

2. The spouse of ex-IRS chief Douglas Shulman was a vocal advocate for speech limits:

 Now, the focus has shifted to [Shulman’s] wife, Susan L. Anderson, after she was identified as a senior advisor for a liberal organization opposed to corporate influence in elections. The group, Public Campaign, says it is “dedicated to sweeping campaign reform that aims to dramatically reduce the role of big special interest money in American politics” and has defended the IRS in recent weeks.

Talk about euphemism, Public Campaign supports “Clean Elections” and “Fair Elections.”  Just not Free Speech.

3. No liberal/progressive groups have been identified that were harassed by the IRS. None.

4. More revelations about individual cases of IRS abuse indicate that crimes were committed — leaking of private information.  This is exactly the kind of institutionalized harassment conducted against civil rights groups in the 1950s!  It is a big, ugly, scary deal. Crimes means criminals. Who did this? The IRS dragged its feet doing its internal investigation in recent years, and tried to keep it hush-hush. Did the White House know about it?

It’s a fair point that a spouse’s political activity, however aggressive (e.g., a vocal liberal Occupy supporter), is improper guilt-by-association. Should the reputation of the IRS be smeared because its chief’s spouse was politically extreme and coincidentally the agency targeted groups she didn’t favor? Maybe not. It is also a fair question to ask what relationships were between IRS employees and the large network of anti-speech activists. Do we have any transparency on the latter question yet?  No. Do we have confidence that the administration will transparently investigate itself?  I do not. It is time for a special prosecutor.

Peggy Noonan is doing amazing work on this story.  Really, really great, and I could only do it justice by copying everything, so treat yourself and read here.

Finally, this week Russell George, the inspector general whose audit confirmed the targeting of conservative groups, mentioned, as we all do these days, Richard Nixon’s attempt to use the agency to target his enemies. But part of that Watergate story is that Nixon failed. Last week David Dykes of the Greenville (S.C.) News wrote of meeting with 93-year-old Johnnie Mac Walters, head of the IRS almost 40 years ago, in the Nixon era. Mr. Dykes quoted Tim Naftali, former director of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, who told him the IRS wouldn’t do what Nixon asked: “It didn’t happen, not because the White House didn’t want it to happen, but because people like Johnnie Walters said ‘no.'”

That was the IRS doing its job—attempting to be above politics, refusing to act as the muscle for a political agenda.

Man—those were the days.

My grandfather, Ed Kane, told me that two scandals in his lifetime riveted his attention, and the national response fulfilled his faith in American democracy. McCarthy was one.  Watergate was the second.  This is our generation’s moment and I pray our institutions are up for it.

Term Limits are a Bad Policy. Here’s Why.

Jonathan Tobin provocatively argues that the long-serving late Senator Frank Lautenberg and active Congressman John Dingell are the poster children for term limits. Children being metaphorical, clearly. As for me, I am more than a little saddened by closing of the WW2 veterans’ chapter in service to the nation. I’ve always thought that our legislature was enriched by the wisdom of ex-soldiers.  Regardless, Tobin makes a good point:

That’s the point that Tom Bevan makes today at and its one worth pondering. The ability of people like Lautenberg and Representative John Dingell, who will break the record for the longest-serving member of Congress on Friday, to hang on into their old age isn’t so much testimony to the nation’s desire to make use of the wisdom of our elders as it is to the way the system is still rigged to help incumbents.

OK, but are term limits the answer?  Aside from the title, the essay is silent on its policy proposal.  The only way we can discuss this, then, is to put words in Tobin’s mouth.  Let’s go!

No, term limits are not a good idea. The reason I say that is because they are a shortcut. We wish democracy worked better and didn’t allow incumbency to self-serve. But it doesn’t, so instead of reducing the power of incumbency, we treat it superficially.

In fact, this kind of artificial institutional change is rather common. In BALANCE, we draw a comparison to the “Tall Man” problem that plagued basketball in the middle of the 20th century. The artificial fix to this problem, seriously considered, was to set a height restriction on athletes allowed to play the game.  Imagine a speed limit on running backs, or an IQ limit on PhD candidates! Instead, the game of basketball adopted institutions that naturally addressed the tall man problem: widening the key, adding a 3-point arc, and alternating possession instead of jump-balls after each basket scored.

What natural rule changes would reduce the power of incumbency?  One would be to make gerrymandering unconstitutional (again). Another good reform would be to allow individual candidates to raise unlimited funds, instead of channeling finances through the established political parties.  And the good news is that the U.S. is moving in the right direction on both of those fronts.